I’m a fan of Yahtzee at Zero Punctuation. His snappy reviews, his sharp wit, his ultimate affection for games, and his fast delivery really make me laugh. It’s not just his skewering of sacred cows, but it’s the fact I think he authentically loves games as well and he’s not full of himself. He’s a bit like Lewis Black but less shouty and with a better hat.
In his review for TIm Schaffer’s Broken Age (also quite amusing), he looks at this kickstarted game, but at the beginning of his video wonders what’s the point. Why do you review a game when people have already ponied up the money for it? What is the point?
At first I had a hearty laugh and then let him do his usual (result: game’s first chapter is flawed, but promising), but then began thinking “you know he has a point.”
What the hell is the point of reviews in an age where people are going to fund your stuff through Kickstarter and other crowdfunding? As many of us wish to or do work in games or media, or may have side projects, as some of us actually do reviews for fun or for a living, it’s kind of a good question.
When people already pay up front, what’s the point? And what does it mean for us?
Now I’m going to tackle this from a career point of view because . . . well, it’s what I do. Yahtzee has sarcasm, I do career advice. But this is something that we could go into from many angles, so I encourage you, dear reader, to do so.
But me . . . well here’s what I’ve thought of.
Crowdfunding, Creators, and Reviews
For people who crowdfund something to the level of “we can do it all”, reviews will actually be very important. And possibly threatening.
Crowdfunding is a way to raise money from an existing audience or a way to grow one – let’s face it a good stunt Kickstarter will get the cash flowing in. It’s a way to get paid up front, get things to happen, and get publicity.
It’s also a way to really, really piss people off because you already got your cash, and better deliver.
I see reviews as actually being more important in an age of Crowdfunding because if people are asking for money up front hey’ve better deliver. A good, serious, intelligent review spells out just not only why you’d purchase said product, but if the person who asked for money actually deliver.
In the case of some cultically followed figures, it may not matter, though I’m always for David loading his sling. But a review is important in a world where we’re getting more patronage models so we know if it wants to continue.
Besides, a good review lets others know if the hype is worth it – and was worth it.
Crowdfunding Isn’t Everything
Crowdfunding also isn’t the only thing that funds games, films, etc. Sometimes its enough to get it finished and get it out (and less of a risk to get the game or book to completion). In this case, reviewers are important for the simple reason that you just want to know if what was produced is worth it.
Crowdfunding may seem to be a game changer, but not all of it (in fact, probably little of it) is to go “all the way” with a project. It’s just a way to get it going or get it done.
In this case, reviews are just as important as they ever were. Perhaps even moreso as if the crowdfunder gets good reviews and results, the next time they may just be able to “fund it before they sell it.”
For reviewers, amateur and professional, I imagine this is a bit of a strange time. I myself confess I’ve wondered “what’s the point” myself. For instance, I felt the Ouya was kind of disappointing, yet at the same time such a ballsy creation I was glad to invest in it just for that sake. Mine hasn’t been used in months yet I feel I did the right thing. Where do reviews fit into that?
But reiterating the above, I think reviews are important in an age of crowdsourcing. Yes, they hold those that ask for (and recieve) much money to their promises. Yes, they advise people of what to look into. But thee’s something more here.
Crowdfunding isn’t just about getting cash (well, OK, not entirely). It’s a kind of dialogue. You make a pitch, make promises, give updates, get money, have people commenting on you. A crowdfundter has made a statement and made promises, and in many cases even listened to people.
Reviewers are part of this. They always were part of dialogue, really.
A good review (which we can use more of) isn’t just about good/bad. It’s analysis, statement, comparison, and ultimately part of a larger dialogue of what people do with their money. In an age of Crowdfunding, reviews just contribute to the evolving dialogue.
A smart review is more than a warning or an advocation. It can give forms to critiques and to praises. It can get people to think. It can make those who failed aware, and those who succeeded continue what worked. A review, especially from a talented reviewer, adds to the smart dialogue.
Finally, a good review is an example of how people should pursue analysis. If you can make a great review people read, some people will be inspired to do better in their reviews, comments, adocacy, and criticism.
So, actually, I think reviews are even more important in an age of Crowdfunding – but also in a different spot.
A Side Note: Pre-Releases
One thing I’ve seen on Steam (the game platform, just in case your rock lacks internet when you’re living under it) is there are plenty of pre-releases. THere are reviews posted by people, there, and at times professional reviewers tackle the states of unfinished games. Frankly, I think this feedback is incredibly helpful.
This further adds to the dialogue, gives feedback (Starbound in fact has highly active forums that are shaping the game), and of course encourages people to pay attention. Folks are playing for early release, and can evaluate their money’s worth.
I actually am very fond of this model, and would like to see it used more – perhaps for utility software, novels, comics, etc. It really, really encourages development.
And of course, it needs good reviewers. Not everyone can pend a 2000 word review of pithy accuracy, after all.
So, in short, I think there’s plenty of room for reviewing in an age of crowdfunding, and in fact it may be more important as part of a larger dialogue. If anything, it’s more important as potions for funding and interactions among people occur, as properties develop during feedback, and as more people give reviews (and it’d be nice for them to not be bad at it).
Oh, and imagine what could be done crowdfunding sites and books on tools for reviewing? Just thinking about that . . .
– Steven Savage